What I've Learned From No-Tilling: Cover Crops Smother Weeds, Slash Input Costs, Bring Soils To Life

Manure, covers and more than 4 decades of no-till helped North Carolina farmer Ray Styer rejuvenate old tobacco acres and eliminate the need for commercial fertilizers on his small farm.

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NAME: Ray Styer

LOCATION: Reidsville, N.C.


ACRES: 155

CROPS: Silage corn, oats, hay

Looking out over my fields today, it’s hard to imagine them as the rundown acres I originally purchased with my wife back in 1958.

After years spent growing tobacco, the 150 acres near Reidsville, N.C., were on their last legs when I took them over. Now, 55 years later, I don’t even have to apply fertilizer to get an excellent crop off the same soil.

Moving away from tobacco and adding manure to the system set me off in the right direction all those years ago. But it wasn’t until I added cover crops to the mix, and went entirely no-till, that my soil really hit its stride. Fortunately, I adopted both of those practices pretty early in the game.

No-till wasn’t even a concept when I purchased this farm, so I farmed the old-fashioned way. I would use a moldboard plow and disc twice to prepare the land for planting. The only thing I was able to add in those early years was manure, thanks to the 50-cow dairy I built on the farm.

Manure helped build organic matter and got the soil headed in the right direction, but it wasn’t a cure-all.

It was in 1970 when I finally took my first steps down the track of really improving my soil health. The first no-till planters started showing up in fields in the area in 1969. In 1970 I…

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Martha Mintz

Contributing Editor

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